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I guess they are all 'agent markers'. As people obviously don't say 'actists' for actors so I guess they are not interchangeable. But where are the differences?

e.g.

-er: painter

-or: creator

-ee: trainee

-eer: volunteer

-ist: cyclist

  • You can look up the definitions for each suffix to get an idea of potential differences, but mostly it comes down to the fact that for any given noun, one or other is the "idiomatically established" choice. But -er is the standard "productive" default for new usages, -or is more likely with "active agents", -ee for "patient noun" (thing/person acted upon), and -ist is more associated with ideologies (aka -isms). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Aug 29 '15 at 14:48
2

Here are a few guidelines for these suffixes:

  • er and or are both suffixes used to turn a verb into a noun by referring to the person/agent responsible for the action. The one rule I could find for the distinction between -er and -or is that Latin-based words tend to use -or. Otherwise, it's more common to use -er instead. This can refer to any agent (person, thing, event etc) that does the action. For example, a mixer is something that blends (mixes) other things together. It can be an electric kitchen device to aid mixing ingredients; it can be the person whose duty it is to mix stuff; it can even be an event whose purpose is to get a bunch of strangers to "blend together" and interact.
  • -ee suffix is used to mean a person who is the target/recipient of an action. So for example, the trainee is a person receiving training. Compare this to the trainer, who is the person in charge of trainer the new trainee.
  • -ist refers to specifically a person who does something or is associated with something. Non-person agents are not typical of this suffix.
  • Thank you for your answer, you made their distinctions easy to understand, appreciated it! I just added '-eer' to the question (I can't believe I forgot to mention it! ), would you mind... ? – Aaron Drake Aug 29 '15 at 15:01
  • Just did a quick google search for suffix eer. It's not terribly related to the other suffixes. – ryanyuyu Aug 29 '15 at 15:32
  • In particular, "-or" tends to be used as an ending for words that can take "-ion" as an ending. – Jasper Aug 29 '15 at 16:52

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